Monday, July 20, 2015

Guest Post: "Tiny Ticklers, Teaching Very Young Students" by Doreen Hall

Hello, readers! Today I'd like to welcome our newest guest, Doreen Hall, to the blog. Doreen is going to share some ideas for teaching very young students. I know we can all use more ideas! Thank you for joining us today, Doreen, and welcome!

They are not like my other students, with these kids I have to be ready…for anything. They hide behind doors, and under pianos. They jump around, run around, and even dance around. They look in my purse, ask me how old I am, and how many kids I have. They call me out on everything from a gray hair to a wrinkled sweater. They don’t stay on the bench for very long, they love to flip pages, and draw smiley faces on the music. And let’s not forget all of those “Whys”.
So who are these people? They are my preschool students of course, and I love teaching them! They jump with excitement, and dance with enthusiasm. They are interested in the music, and curious about everything (like when was the last time I dusted my piano). They are unabashedly honest, free spirited and fearless. In other words, they are natural musicians.
I love teaching these little angels but it is not necessarily an easy task. It takes a whole lot of patience, love and the understanding that very young children learn differently than their older counterparts. Little hands and eyes are not ready for everything the pianist needs to learn, but little ears and hearts are like open vessels ready for the music to be poured in.
While in my experience most three and four-year-olds are not ready for traditional piano instruction there are many skills preschoolers are ready to learn. For example:
  • Lesson etiquette; greeting the teacher, taking care of materials, etc.
  • Concentration. 
  • Proper posture (I recommend a foot bench and adjustable seat).
  • Finger numbers (following fingering is a challenge for most preschoolers).
  • The music alphabet (forward and backward).
  • The names of the keys.
  • Treble and Bass clef.
  • How to identify high, medium and low notes, by sound and on the keyboard.
  • The names of basic note values.
  • Stories of Great Composers.
  • How to play along with the teacher duet style and keep a steady beat.
  • How to sing simple melodies.
  • Solfege syllables.
  • How to count and clap basic rhythm.
  • The definition of music.
  • The concept of organized sound.
  • The concept of timbre.
  • Dynamics; loud vs soft sounds.
  • Tempo; fast, medium and slow music.
  • To listen to great music. (You can guide families on this).
  • How to participate in a recital (most little kids are not nervous).
  • Basic Improvisation.
I believe a child can start learning to play the piano as soon as he/she is willing to receive instruction. Granted you may have to take a lot of breaks at the beginning, and it helps to have a parent around to guide the practice at home. The main thing is to make lessons fun and be sure that all of the grown-ups involved in the child’s piano education have realistic expectations of the importance of practicing (Beginning with about 5 minutes a day).

I always keep the music in front of my preschool students to make them aware of the notation. I don't mind the really little ones getting help from a parent, or even following some fingerings and writing in note names if it gets them playing. When I feel the student is ready, I introduce music reading. For most of my student’s this coincides with learning to read words.

When working with preschool students I really like to vary the activities and keep the lesson moving along. I let the kids stand up and even walk around as needed. Many of the above activities can be “off the bench”. For example, the children can stand while singing or walk up and down the keyboard while naming the keys.  

Teaching preschoolers is always an adventure. Each little one is unique. Some are boisterous, some are quiet, and some run smiling into the studio, while others hang steadfastly to Dad’s leg. Each one however, is able learn about music. As long as a child’s first experience with piano study is a positive one, I believe it is a great advantage for children to begin piano study as early in life as possible.

About the Author: Doreen Hall teaches Piano in West Palm Beach Florida. She holds a teaching certificate in Music K through 12 and Early Childhood Education. She has over 30 years of experience teaching students of all ages and abilities. She earned a degree in Music Theory and Composition from SUNY Fredonia. She has Post Graduate credit from Adelphi University in New York, and she has trained with the Suzuki Association of the Americas.
Doreen serves as the pianist at her church and works regularly as an accompanist in the West Palm Beach area. She is an avid composer and arranger, and self publishes her music. She has written her own piano method, and publishes the books online in PDF format at Paloma Piano LLC.
Doreen lives in Sunny Florida with her husband Stewart. She has 5 sons and 2 grandchildren. Most of her interests music related and include Ethnomusicology, Singing, and playing the Violin.

Connect with Doreen at her website:
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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Music Alphabet Monsters - Free Download

As your new students learn and review the letters of the music alphabet, they will love getting help from these adorable monsters! These cards are appropriate for a single student, small group, group class, music classroom, music camp, or even the non-music setting. Download includes 4 different sets of music alphabet cards (a set of green monsters, a set of yellow monsters, a set of blue monsters, and a set of pink monsters), and a black/white line art set, plus 4 pages of game ideas and photos. Read more below, and you can find the download link at the bottom of this post. Hope your kiddos enjoy! :)

Download these free sets of music alphabet cards and game instructions here.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope your kiddos enjoy! 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Guest Post: "Why Music? Because Music Works." by Darcy Hill

Today's guest post is written by Darcy Hill of One Arts Infusion Collaborative. Many thanks to Darcy for submitting this article! 

They were from the far east side of town, and we were from the far west.  Our lives, our experiences, and our schedules were worlds apart despite the few miles that separated us. It’s not that we couldn’t have been friends; it’s just that our paths would never have crossed. That is, until “The Project,” that cast us all on the same team, transitioned from dream to enactment. 

Two very different fifth grade worlds were about to collide and in that collision, be called upon to create and then perform a rap depicting the story of our city, our shared story.  It was to be a part of a much larger original musical work entitled, “Hometown History,” and was dreamed and written to be shared by children to an audience of all neighbors from all neighborhoods of our hometown.  It was to serve as a big affirming hug to a city besieged by violence, unemployment, and fear.  It was to be just one step toward building a bridge of hope and trust between neighbors.  

The first meeting of the fifth graders  occurred at the west side school and although the air was filled with a certain amount of  tentativeness,  a pinch of suspicion, and a good dollop of curiosity, the lengthy laundry list of tasks to be accomplished while together served to quickly  focus us all  beyond our piddily concerns and doubts. We attended to the business of getting the job done and that demanded immediate cooperative effort; all hands on deck, so to speak. We worked exceedingly hard, we learned, shared, collaborated, laughed, perfected, discussed, fell short, tried again, cheered each other on, applauded ourselves, supported, encouraged, questioned, explained, tried harder, kept practicing, saw progress, high-fived,  and, after a couple of hours, enjoyed a pizza lunch together with these precious new friends.  The next few weeks were committed to practicing on our own at our respective schools.  

The second meeting occurred at the east side school, and the air was filled with excitement, anticipation and warmth as we reconvened our awesome fifth grade team.  The local news media showed up to capture the joy of this creative team of fifth grade bridge builders as they zealously rehearsed their proud rap, and sang, danced, played, and laughed as all children should and do from every side of town in every town around the globe. 

Music brought us together. Music brought balm to a hometown afflicted with fear and distrust. Music brought laughter, peace, joy and friendship. Music built a bridge of hope and possibility. Music always does.  Music levels the playing field and invites each one to play. Music is a universal language that transcends circumstances and disengages exclusivity.  Music links us, binds us, welcomes us, and calls us into a shared joy.  

Why music? Because it heals our hearts and makes us better.


About Darcy Hill: I am a teacher. Over the past 30 years, I have been committed to reaching the hearts of the diverse students I teach by writing curricula immersed in original song, drama, and creative movement to bring subject matter to life, to kindle imaginations, and to instill a love for learning. I believe that arts integration holds a key to increased student engagement in the learning process. I believe that the arts are a powerful tool to build collaborative bridges of hope and joy between neighbors and organizations within communities, and I am deeply committed to local efforts of this sort. I have written numerous musicals for my students over the years. One of the most recent original pieces was “Forever Honest Abe”(about Abraham Lincoln) which we performed  May 2014 in Springfield, IL including a recitation of the Gettysburg Address delivered on the floor of the Illinois State Senate. The previous year we performed the original “On Being Wright” (about Frank Lloyd Wright) at Wright-designed Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin. We performed in our hometown of Rockford, IL as well to heighten awareness of the genius of Wright in preparation for the local opening of the Laurent House, Wright’s only handicap accessible house. Just prior to that, we performed “Hometown History,” a musical I wrote about our city. We engaged the support and involvement of more than 25 local organizations as a part of this effort and earned a “Mayor’s Arts Award” for collaborative project of the year. We are presently up to our ears in this summer’s project is a children’s operetta entitled, “Araminta: The Life of Harriet Tubman,” which we will teach to 100 under-served and special needs students and then perform locally as well as in Wisconsin at an Underground Railroad Museum. 

Music teaches. Music heals. Music helps build bridges between neighbors. Time and time again over more than 30 years I have witnessed the power and preciousness of music to reach into situations and bring hope. 

I was born and raised in Wisconsin, am a UW-Madison grad, and a 30 year teacher in Illinois.  I have been married 27 years to a very patient man, have 3 remarkable sons, 2 rambunctious Labs, a most inspiring extended family, and a lifelong zeal for playing the piano and writing music.

Although exceedingly late in my career, I just completed a Master's Degree in 2013 in Curriculum and Instruction from Concordia University Portland, thereby achieving a bucket list dream. 

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Easy Recital Prep and Gift Idea for Students

The trending question of the past few weeks, it seems, is "What gift should I give my students after the recital?"

Here's a fun and simple idea that is easy to implement, very affordable, and looks amazing. This is the first time I've given a gift like this, and I'm so pleased with the final result. Drum roll please...

Ta-Da! I was so excited to give all of my students a personalized wordle/word cloud art gift at our spring recital in May! 

Here's how I made this. First, I asked all of my students at group class a couple of weeks ago to write down 15 words that describe themselves, but didn't tell them why, then I took those 15 words, added their name, the year, and their recital pieces and composers, and added the information to a form at to create their gifts. I was able to upload the fonts I wanted to use, even though they had a ton of different fonts from which to choose. The font choices in this gift match the fonts I'm using in our recital programs and certificates (see below), and I love how they turned out. The colors are personalized for each student - favorite colors, college team colors, etc. The color options are endless, and the shapes, in this case eighth notes, are fun to experiment with. I printed the gifts onto glossy photo paper, framed them in cute 5x7 frames from The Dollar Tree (only $1 each), and my students LOVED them!

After creating all the items I needed for my own studio recital, including invitations, programs, and certificates of participation, I created and uploaded a piano recital kit of editable recital templates that is available for purchase in my store. Click here to purchase the Piano Recital Kit. Follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers to be the first to know when new products are available! Here are our recital programs, invitations, and certificates. They contain the same fonts used in the gifts above, so everything for the recital was coordinated perfectly. The Piano Recital Kit contains templates for Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter Recitals, so it can be used year-round! 

In addition to the certificates of participation above, I also gave some fun certificates to my students for accomplishing various goals and improving in specific areas throughout the year. You can purchase the entire set of editable certificates here! There are full color and black and white versions, and there are 63 different awards in each pack. With this huge pack of certificates, you'll be able to give tons of fun awards that your students will love. There are also templates in 3 designs that you can personalize for your students with awards that are specific to your own studio. 

I hope these ideas make your recital planning and prep much easier, and will give you more time to focus on preparing your students instead of having to spend so much time thinking of ideas for fun gifts, programs, invitations, and certificates! Happy Recital! :)

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The Plucky Pianista Blog is Accepting Guest Posts!

The Plucky Pianista blog is embarking on a new and exciting journey of accepting guest posts for publication by The Plucky Pianista Blog! If you're interested in submitting an article for review and possible publication at the blog, read below and click the link at the end of this post to visit the submissions page. 
If you have never blogged but are interested in blogging for the first time, if you’re a seasoned blogger looking for a place to share your ideas, if you’re interested in starting your own blog but would like to try your hand at blogging before you set out on your own, or if you just love sharing with others about exciting happenings in the field of music, then you have come to the right place!
The Plucky Pianista Blog is now accepting submissions for review and possible publication at The Plucky Pianista Blog! All areas of music are welcome! Did you try something new in your classroom or studio and want to share it with the world? Submit an article! Are you using technology in your classroom or studio in a unique and meaningful way? Submit an article! Do you love writing about music topics and need a platform? Submit an article! Are you working on building your online presence in professional music circles but don’t know where to start? Submit an article! Do you have valuable nuggets of wisdom about the teaching and learning process that you would love to share? Submit an article!
Submission does not guarantee publication of your article, but most articles that are received are published. If you have questions about the submission form or the submission process, use the Contact Form on my website at to contact me. Thank you for your continued contribution to the field of music education!

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